The rise and fall of Wirecard, a German tech champion

Payments firm Wirecard collapsed last year in Germany’s biggest post-war fraud scandal. A parliamentary inquiry is in progress, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz due to testify in April.

The German government examined the possibility of bailing out Wirecard just three days before it collapsed.

The following timeline summarizes the developments that led to the collapse of the company, as well as key moments since:

1999: Wirecard is founded in Munich.

2002: Markus Braun, previously a KPMG consultant, takes over as chief executive.

2005: Wirecard is listed on the Deutsche Boerse Frankfurt (Frankfurt Stock Exchange), Prime Standard segment.

2006: Consolidation of Wirecard Bank AG.

2007: Wirecard Asia Pacific established.

2010: Jan Marsalek appointed Chief Operating Officer at Wirecard.

2016: A negative report by short sellers Zatarra Research alleges fraudulent activity at Wirecard, saying senior executives have committed money laundering offences, as well as defrauding Mastercard and Visa. [bit.ly/39HDepW]

2018: Wirecard joins the DAX blue-chip market index, making it officially one of the 30 most valuable German companies listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

2019
Jan. 30: Wirecard denies a report in the Financial Times that a Wirecard executive had used forged and backdated contracts in a string of suspicious transactions that raised questions about the integrity of the company’s accounting practice. Wirecard called the report “false, inaccurate, misleading and defamatory”.

Feb. 19: BaFin informs the finance ministry that it has ordered an inquiry into Wirecard’s accounting, and is banning short-selling in the company’s stock.

March 28: Wirecard sues the FT over a series of investigative reports that it said made use of, and misrepresented, business secrets.

Oct. 21: The company hires KPMG to conduct an independent audit to address allegations by the FT that its finance team had sought to inflate reported sales and profits.

Nov. 5: Wirecard announces it plans to take over China’s Allscore.

2020
Apr. 28: An independent investigation by auditor KPMG finds that Wirecard did not provide sufficient documentation to address all allegations of accounting irregularities made by the Financial Times.

May 25: Publication of final 2019 results is postponed for a third time.

June 18: Auditor EY refuses to sign off Wirecard’s 2019 accounts as it was unable to confirm the existence of 1.9 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in cash balances on trust accounts, representing around a quarter of its balance sheet.

June 19: Wirecard’s CEO Markus Braun quits as firm’s search for missing cash hits a dead end in the Philippines and it scrambles to secure a financial lifeline from its banks.

June 22: Wirecard says that 1.9 billion euros it booked in its accounts likely never existed.

June 22: The finance ministry examines giving Wirecard loan from state bank KfW.

June 23: Wirecard’s former boss Braun is released on bail after being arrested on suspicion of falsifying the company’s accounts.

June 25: Wirecard files for insolvency, owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a gaping hole in its books.

June 29: A Munich court appoints Michael Jaffe to manage the insolvency of Wirecard.

July 1: Police and public prosecutors raid Wirecard’s headquarters in Munich and four properties in German and Austria as they widen their investigation into the company.

July 2: The head of Germany’s financial watchdog calls the accounting scandal at Wirecard “a massive criminal act”.

July 6: German prosecutors arrest the head of a Dubai-based subsidiary of Wirecard.

July 9: German state prosecutors start investigating individuals at Wirecard for suspected money laundering.

July 16: The former head of a Dubai-based subsidiary of Wirecard, who was arrested earlier in July, admits wrongdoing to prosecutors for his role in a multi-billion-euro fraud.

July 22: German prosecutors arrest three former top executives of Wirecard, including Braun, saying they suspected them of masterminding a criminal racket to fake the company’s accounts and defraud creditors of billions of euros.

Sept. 1: German lawmakers launch a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard.

2021
Jan. 29: Felix Hufeld, president of German financial watchdog BaFin, announces he is stepping down.

Feb. 2: Scholz announces he is giving BaFin more powers to spot and investigate misconduct at companies it supervises and make it more agile.

Feb 24: The head of Germany’s accounting watchdog announces he is stepping down.

Late April: Merkel and Scholz are scheduled to testify to a parliamentary investigative committee about their role in the scandal.